Karen Ramshaw makes several good points in [the recent] opinion piece [“Let’s Be Honest, Asheville: Elitism and Scapegoating Won’t Solve Congestion, Affordable Housing and Sprawl,” Sept. 11, Xpress], but her criticism of Montford residents’ resistance to the proposed apartment buildings on Elizabeth Place and Starnes Avenue ignores the real and far-reaching consequences of the project. As a renter who has lived in Montford for 11 years, I’m well aware of the need for more affordable housing here and throughout the city, but this particular development simply isn’t an acceptable answer.
First, it violates explicit guidelines established by the Historic Resources Commission of Asheville and Buncombe County. The plan would demolish a 1940s house, remove more than 20 trees, raise the soil grade by 28 feet, and install a 19-foot retaining wall, dramatically altering the landscape of a small residential intersection. Given that the role of the HRC is to preserve the historical integrity of districts like Montford (to the point where it’s almost impossible to get permission to fix a leaking window), it seems insane that they would even consider the project, yet somehow it has remained on the meeting agenda for five months. (Could it be because nine of the 12 current members of the HRC are involved in the development industry?)
Furthermore, the plan provides only 12 parking spaces for 22 rental units and removes three current on-street parking spaces, which will make an already tight situation virtually impossible in an area where many commuters from outside the neighborhood already park.
Perhaps most importantly, an approval of this plan would open the door for future developers to disregard HRC policy, citing this project as precedent. This has long-term consequences for all of Montford, and I applaud my neighbors for holding the HRC to its own mission. If developers want to work in a historic district, let them come up with sensible plans that adhere to the same rules and regulations that property owners and renters have to live by. There’s nothing wrong with the appearance of the proposed buildings. There just isn’t room for a development of this size in the proposed location.
Ramshaw characterizes those of us opposing the plan as elitist NIMBYs who “fight inclusion” by “weaponizing” historical guidelines to avoid the “inconveniences of growth.” But this isn’t about not wanting to deal with construction noise or a change in the view from a few people’s windows. It’s not an automatic “anti-development” move by neighbors who haven’t done their research. And it’s not about opposing multifamily structures or wanting to keep people out — we value diversity here. It’s unfortunate that Ramshaw takes such a divisive stance against one part of the city while at the same time arguing that we need to start listening to one another.
For more information about this proposed development and to sign a petition to the HRC (should you be inclined), please see www.stopoverdevelopment.net/.
— Meggen Lyon
Editor’s note: Regarding the part of the letter about the role of the Historic Resources Commission, Xpress contacted HRC Chairman Bryan Moffitt with a summary of the letter writer’s points, and he offered the following response: “The Historic Resources Commission is a 12-member joint city/county body, whose members must have demonstrated special interest, experience or education in history, architecture, archaeology, architectural history, historic preservation, landscape architecture or a related field, in accordance with N.C. General Statutes. While some members of the HRC may work with the development community, no current members are professional developers.
“To provide for due process, the HRC must hear all applications proposed within the historic overlay. Furthermore, commission members are required to follow all rules of procedure and base their decisions solely on the factual evidence presented to them in the public hearing, using the relevant design guidelines, rather than preferential opinion.
“The multifamily project on Elizabeth Place has been continued for several months at the request of the applicant. This is not unusual for projects under review by the HRC and is in accordance with the commission’s rules of procedure.”